Healthcare has long been one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Amid the challenges of a global pandemic, skilled healthcare professionals are unsurprisingly in high demand and employment in healthcare is projected to grow at unprecedented rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 15% growth in healthcare occupations between 2019 and 2029, translating to over 2 million new jobs.
The future of healthcare looks bright in terms of opportunities for sharp, innovative leaders to guide organizations into this advanced, digital age. Artificial Intelligence (or AI) has revolutionized how the healthcare industry operates, from patient engagement like telehealth to patient research like virtual clinical trials.
While promising, the integration of advanced technologies comes with a bit of a learning curve. The COVID-19 crisis revealed some of the challenges that occur when a healthcare organization isn’t adequately prepared or equipped with the tools needed to make the most of these innovations. To better serve patients, organizations must pivot to digital health systems. In some cases, many shifted without a knowledgeable IT team to ensure success and security or solid collaborative tools to ensure connectivity.
Unfortunately, many organizations suffered the consequences. Cybercriminals, for example, take advantage of these discrepancies, and this resulted in an increase in cyberattacks on healthcare organizations in 2020. A report from Check Point Software noted a 45% increase in attacks worldwide from November 2020 to January 2021.
“Data became very important in the fight against COVID-19,” said Eric Jimenez, Chief Information Officer of Artesia General Hospital in New Mexico. “As we were building data dashboards to help our team make the right decisions, we needed to focus on securing the data. The remote workforces were making it harder to make sure our data was secure. It is not an easy task managing data security.”
Artesia General experienced its first cybersecurity incident in 2019. A phishing attack compromised the protected health information of over 13,000 patients. In an article published by Healthcare IT News, Jimenez detailed how this data breach motivated him to educate and promote cybersecurity in the hospital. This laid the foundation for the implementation of new security technology and the creation of a collaborative team. These two elements proved essential.
“As I look back at 2020, innovation in the healthcare industry was accelerated. The digital transformation needs to be led by someone or a team that has a deep understanding of technology and operations,” Jimenez said. “In my eyes, the role of information technology as a support function has come to an end in 2020. The role of the CIO and their team will change. Technology has a part in every function of healthcare now.”
This expanded functionality of the IT department in healthcare means more than simply minimizing security breaches. Other IT challenges facing healthcare organizations today include:
- Eliminating the network integration issues (known as blind spots) resulting from mergers and acquisitions between hospitals and clinics
- Transforming the business to align with the future of medicine, including staying ahead of technological advancements in digital health and improving the patient experience
- Leveraging technology to improve overall network performance
How Can Healthcare Leaders Overcome These Challenges?
Finding solutions for the healthcare industry starts with investing in the tools and the talent. Once a competent IT team is in place, leaders should take a holistic look at the healthcare institution’s network to see what monitoring data is needed, collect it and pass it on to security tools. Second, increase the frequency of network assessments to stay on top of performance issues. This means routinely testing network security, Wi-Fi networks, wireless and wired networks.
The shift to digital medicine is here to stay. While it may come with its challenges, the advances offer hope for the future of healthcare organizations. As the industry continues to grow and change quickly, so will the demand for competent leaders that can evolve to meet the world’s demands.